Steve Rockfish is a Private Investigator in Pennsylvania. But work has been thin to non-existent thanks to the lockdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He’s got a lot of bills and not a single job to cover those bills. His prized possession, his car, is at extreme risk of being repo-ed and he’ll need to hide it until he can make payments again.
When a job opportunity arises, and a pretty simple one at that – investigate a location and the legend of a supposed child-trafficking ring, on behalf of a proposed television program – he eagerly takes on the job.
Early in the investigation Rockfish meets Jawnie McGee, the great granddaughter of a local policeman gone missing while investigating the original crimes. That policeman’s notes have been sitting in a file box for decades and Jawnie’s been trying to get them turned over to her. The new chief sees no reason for Jawnie not to have them, so she has picked up the box the same day that Rockfish introduces himself to her.
Jawnie and Rockfish join forces to go through Jawnie’s great grandfather’s notes. What neither realizes is that there are forces at work in the community doing some work that they don’t necessarily want exposed to someone like an out-of-towner PI or a snoopy descendant of a cop. When those forces have deep connections inside the police department, it means trouble for Rockfish and McGee.
Lately I’ve had a serious interest in reading 1950’s & 60’s style pulp fiction and I’ve wondered if there’s anyone writing in this vein anymore, so I was drawn to this book based on the cover and the description, which seemed right up my alley. I’m glad to say that it is.
Author Ken Harris manages to write a hard-boiled mystery in our very modern setting. It’s a really nice blend.
The book, while being a mystery and action story, really relies character to drive it. Here that character is primarily Steve Rockfish and in moderation, Jawnie McGee. We don’t get a lot of background of either character and our understanding of them is based solely on how they react to the events in the story. We see that Rockfish is cool and collected even when faced with direct threats and while being shot at. He’s classic tough guy PI.
Jawnie is a little more of an enigma. She doesn’t come with the investigator’s experience, but she does have desire and the fresh, untainted, expectations that counter Rockfish’s gruff outlook. The complement each other well through the course of the investigation.
Steve and Jawnie do require a little outside help to get them through, which is a little bit convenient.
As someone who grew up watching P.I. television shows from the 70’s and 80’s, I can’t help but compare Steve Rockfish to Jim Rockford. There’s even a character named “Angel” here (“Angel” was Rockford’s ‘sidekick’). I definitely would have preferred a name that didn’t seem like it was a parody.
I liked the way this story ends (I don’t want to give it away) and it makes me eager to read the next volume in what I hope will be a long-running series.
Looking for a good book? The Pine Barren Stratagem by Ken Harris is a solid, classic PI action story set during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you like 1970’s P.I. television, or 1950’s/60’s hard-boiled detective fiction, this is a book need to read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netglley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Pine Barren Stratagem
author: Ken Harris
publisher: Black Rose Writing
paperback, 250 pages